Dr. (Mrs.) Regina Morgan is a Chief Consultant Ophthalmologist at the National Hospital Abuja. In this interview with SEGUN ADIO, the eye expert reveals the inherent danger in the eye disorder called glaucoma.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of usually inherited eye disorder characterised by damage to the optic nerve-head which is called the optic disc, and it has characteristic visual failed damage, and raised intraocular pressure may be a factor.
The intraocular pressure is like blood pressure; every human being has the intraocular pressure. It is a complex mechanism of a fluid which flows inside the eye called aqueous humor. Usually, the rate at which the aqueous humor is produced is in equilibrium with the rate at which it goes out. If for any reason, there is an increase in the rate of production but the rate of out flow is the same, then there is a build-up of pressure, but if the rate of inflow is the same but the rate of out-flow is impeded, then there is a build-up of pressure.
That is the only factor we can actually modify in glaucoma and that is why we are laying emphasis on the intraocular pressure. It is usually inherited.
Is it infectious?
It is not an infection. Like I said, it is an optic neuropathy which is usually inherited. The cause of glaucoma is not known, but there are factors that may lead one to suspect that somebody can have glaucoma.
One of such factors is inheritance, that is, if anybody has glaucoma in the family, especially, if parents have it, the likelihood that their children will have glaucoma is very high. Then anybody who is a black person, unfortunately, is at risk of developing glaucoma. Also, anybody who is 40 years and above is at the risk of having glaucoma. People who have refractive error, especially, those who are short-sighted are at risk of developing glaucoma. So, glaucoma is not an infection; it is not infectious.
What is the difference between Apollo and glaucoma?
Apollo could be infectious via handshake or eye contact but it is not so with glaucoma. Before anybody complains about the eyes in glaucoma, a lot of damage would have been done.
What are the forms of treatment of glaucoma?
There are many forms of treatment, but, our emphasis is on early detection because if it is not detected early, it causes a lot of damage to the sight and, unfortunately, that damage is irreversible.
So, whatever has been damaged by glaucoma remains damaged and, unfortunately, again, blindness is sure. All we do is try as much as we can to detect it early and start treatment and that is why we are campaigning that people should always test their eyes because, usually, glaucoma does not cause any problem to you.
Glaucoma is asymptomatic, that is what we call it in medicine. Because it is asymptomatic, until much damage is done, the person does not feel anything. The person can still be seeing well but what is happening to him is that, although, he sees straight ahead, he does not see from the sight, but, many do not know that.
The truth is that until much damage is done, glaucoma does not show any symptom. So, we advise that everybody should get their eyes checked especially those who have any of these factors that I have described. Also, some people, through general or routine eye check-ups, they find out that they have glaucoma.
And once glaucoma is detected early, there are things we can do to bring to the barest minimum the rate of progression. One of such ways is medication; some they put eye drops in the eyes; some would have to put medicine by mouth. This will help to reduce the intraocular pressure which I said is a modifiable factor in glaucoma.
If medical treatment does not succeed, we can also use laser to do a procedure, not surgery per se, but a procedure which will help to increase the rate at which the fluid goes out of the eye.
If this fails, we can also do real surgery which is called Trabeculectomy. This will help to increase the rate of the flow of the fluid out of the eye. So, we can either give medicines, use laser or do surgery as treatment for glaucoma.
However, none of these is a cure for glaucoma. All we try to do is to bring to the barest minimum the rate of progression of glaucoma.
What is the statistics of people suffering from this disease?
Worldwide, glaucoma is the second cause of blindness. Cataract is the commonest cause of blindness. Millions of Nigerians are suffering from glaucoma and most do not know, yet, it is damaging their sight gradually. Generally, most people do not know they have glaucoma and it is saddening.
What is your advice to Nigerians?
Generally, anybody who is known to wear glasses, when you go for glasses, insist on having your eyes examined by an eye care provider, preferably, an ophthalmologist. Anybody who is a black man, we Nigerians are black, and once you’re over 40 years, you should strive to have your eyes tested, at least, once in a year. And anybody who has a family trace of glaucoma should have his eyes tested as well.